Saturday, December 27, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Merry Christmas
I hope everyone is doing well and had a blessed Christmas day. I have to apologize for not communicating more this fall. I did not realize how being here during the holidays was going to negatively affect me so much. Going to Nairobi at Thanksgiving was to be a time of rest and refreshment, but ended up being more stressful due to many meetings and extra time needed to shop for supplies. It left little time for relaxation. It was nice to be back in the land of beautiful colors, cool weather and clean stores, but I was more overwhelmed by the stores and the shopping than I had anticipated. Also my fun time shopping at the Maasai market turned into me having a total meltdown when it rained and I slipped and fell on the muddy wooden steps. Luckily I was not badly hurt, just bruised, drenched and dirty.  I think everything just hit me then and I could not quit crying. It was not a pretty picture.

Forgot a picture with ornaments
I really do try to find the good in bad situations, but sometimes it is hard. Missionary life is full of many ups and downs and I have to admit there are days when I would rather be at home with my family, church family and friends and not here. Of course things got better after Thanksgiving and God blessed me with a chance to come back to Nairobi for Christmas, which has been very refreshing. So a little late, but still appropriate for the season, here is a list of things I am thankful for.

Christmas Decorations

The tree for my room
I got excited when I saw 3 boxes of lights and a few cards in one of the stores in Lodwar on November 1st, unfortunately other than a few more cards and some tinsel strands, that was about the extent of decorations available to purchase in Turkana. Nairobi was better and the malls were decorated but still rather minimally compared to the malls and stores in America. It was such a big contrast that I had not expected. However, I managed to purchase a couple small trees and ornaments and a teammate donated some lights. I will not go into the light buying and trying to return fiasco of 2014….also occurring on the day I fell in the mud!

I made cut out snowflakes from white printer paper and a wreath for my front door from the green and white tinsel in Lodwar. Even though it was 90+ degrees and I was wearing flip flops as I sang Christmas carols it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  

Christmas Music

Candle light caroling
The music is what really makes it seem like Christmas to me, so I brought over Christmas CD’s and music loaded on my Kindle. I knew I would miss singing the songs at church and going caroling with my church friends. No American Christmas songs are sung at the Turkana churches and that is as it should be, but still sad for me. In the blessing of coming back to Nairobi, I arrived on the day that one of the churches here held their large picnic and caroling event. I sat on a blanket eating cheese (dairy is what I miss the most in Turkana) listening to songs as the people all streamed in before the real sing along event began. Then it got even better. As we had driven to the event we passed 2 camels being led along the road. They had on riding pads and we joked that maybe they were coming to the caroling. Those were the first camels I had seen in Nairobi. They are so commonplace in Turkana that I almost did not think it was odd, until the people I was with pointed them out and said something. Wow how my perspectives have changed. About an hour later, those camels showed up where we were. I was probably more excited than all the kids who wanted rides. So now I can say I have ridden on a camel in Kenya.
The camel I rode

Language Learning in the Bush

Language learning in Lodwar has been hard. I was blessed to have my language helper from my vision trip back in the area to work with me for about 2 months when I got to Turkana, but it is too easy to use English there in my daily life. About the time I was realizing this, my language helper got a full time job. This made me sad at first, but I am thankful for the time I had with her and am thankful that she has a job to help her provide for her family. 

I will now be spending more time in the bush during the week. This will push me to use the language more and not fall back on English. I will also have a better chance to see how we can incorporate growing food for the animals in the farms. I will be able to see and learn more about the farms and the wells and begin to develop relationships with the people. Please pray for me and my language learning and some of the other stresses that will come with building relationships.

My new "friends"
One example of that is when I visited the farm and talked with ladies I had previously met. It took only about an hour for them to declare me their new friend. Great, I thought, until I realized that that meant they had the right to start asking me for things. Although I could barely understand the words, I was catching most of the meaning of them pointing at my clothes and their beads and saying Lodwar and lotaun (in town) a lot. Later someone else translated for me. They had asked for rides to town, new clothes, more beads, watches and for me to slaughter a goat when they came to my house to visit. I said I did not have a goat. They said I could buy one. I said “no”.  So seriously, pray for my language learning and for the relationships, that I can develop some genuine ones and not just be asked for things all the time.

CHE (Community Health Evangelism)

I came here to be a part of the CHE program and I still know this is God’s leading for me. However, the CHE program has gone through some changes recently and I am not sure what it will look like in the future. I have been blessed by my CHE training and still know that CHE can work in Turkana. I am thankful that just when I was feeling frustrated about it, God showed me two examples of CHE at work.

Digging the trench
Refilling the trench with sand
The first was in a location where the pipes from the well and water tank were leaking. The community leaders contacted the missionary and told him about the problem. When we went out to see the area, they had not only identified the problem, they knew how they wanted to fix it. They just needed a couple different connectors and the tools and then concrete for the water run off for the animals. I was so impressed as we suggested they put the spicket in the shade and they stood up to our suggestion and said no that was a bad location. As I remembered being there a month earlier and seeing all the people gathering in the shady area I realized they were right, it would have been a bad location and I was glad they told us that. After some initial work by the missionary, they dug the needed trenches and got everything ready for the concrete. We had left to get the concrete and by the time we came back they had already been gathering the rocks and sand needed. We had not told them to have it ready, they knew what they needed and they did it. What a blessing to see this. I love the picture where we wazungu (white guys) are standing around watching them work. That’s a community working together, identifying a problem, the solution and then fixing the problem and taking ownership of the project.  
Concrete in place

Patching up the holes
The second example was the next day when we went out to build a shelter on one of the farm plots so tomatoes could be grown there. Tomatoes are more sensitive to the heat and mites, so the netting used would provide shade and eliminate a lot of the mites blown in with the dust. I had my doubts about the design when we started, because the wind was actually so bad that day that I was being blown over just trying to hold the netting, but in a few hours we had it secure and stable. The whole time the people at the farm gathered the needed sticks and cut the ends. They helped remove the netting from another area and move it over. Then when we mentioned that there were some holes in the netting that needed to have patches sown over them, immediately, the lady whose plot this was whipped out a needle found a loose thread from the edge of the netting and began to sew the patch in place. By the time we had finished securing all the netting to the frame and gathered our supplies she was almost done. She had taken ownership of that shelter and understood what she needed to do. She did not tell us we needed to sew it for her, she took the initiative and did it herself.

These may seem like very small things, but they were not. They give me hope, even with a culture that has been led into dependency by the many NGO’s that come and do nothing but give handouts over and over. Please continue to pray for the work we are doing teaching development. Pray that the people will understand that they have resources and knowledge. They can have a better life for themselves and not just resort to begging and taking handouts all the time. The fact that they have learned how to survive in the harsh elements of the desert in the bush is amazing to me. They live a hard daily life, but they also know how to have fun.

Cultural Learning at a Turkana Wedding

Which of these does not belong?
Often I learn about the culture through discussions that come up as I learn the language, but sometimes I just have to experience it to understand it. I was really excited when my language helper in the bush asked if I wanted to go to a wedding. My first question was “Is it ok if I go?” and then “Do I need to change clothes?” although I was already wearing the best outfit that I had with me in the bush that week. Luckily the answers were, Yes and No, in that order.  Then I had my first culture lesson when I asked what time the wedding began and I was told it had started the night before, when the families got together to discuss how many animals would be given for the dowry. I thought that should have been done long before the wedding started, but I guess maybe this was just the final official negotiation.

So, after a morning of language learning that included some dancing lessons with the ladies in the farm, we were driven out to the site of the wedding and dropped off. I do not like being the center of attention, especially at someone else’s wedding, but I have realized most times that is hard for me to avoid, especially in the bush. After the initial excitement of me being there, I was able to just blend in a little more and enjoy what was happening. I still have a limited understanding of most of it, and one question always led to more questions. I may not have all this completely correct so someone with more Turkana cultural experience is welcome to comment and correct this, if needed.  
The men entering

 ·      We were there on the second day of the wedding in the afternoon for about 3 hours. I never saw the bride. The groom showed up after I was there for about 2 hours.

·      Some people were gathered in the shade of every tree around the houses of the bride’s family where the wedding was taking place. Every time I glanced around there were more and more people there.

·      Then the dancing began. The men walked in as a group from the distance. The circled around and then came up to where a pen was in place and the bull was being slaughtered. They wore bells on their legs and feathered hats that had different colors for the men from the grooms family and from the brides family. They carried their small seats (ekicholong).

·      The father of the bride had 2 wives and the mother of the bride received the slaughtered cow. As each piece of meat was taken to her the men danced as they carried it to her hut and then danced back to the pen. After that was done a camel was brought over and it decided it did not want to be a part of the wedding that day, but unluckily for the camel some brave soul caught its tale and it too became part of the wedding feast. However, it was given to the father of the brides other wife. Having more than one wife is still rather common here.

·      I never did get an exact answer about how many animals would be needed for a dowry in Turkana. However, I was assured that I would be worth more in Turkana than the typical 8 cow dowry in Maasailand. Interesting! That was about all I could say to that!

·      There were also goats roasted for the meals that would follow and at least 4 were put directly on the fire while I was there. Since I was crashing the wedding anyway, I was happy to leave before dinner was served.  

    The women entering
·      After the men had started their dancing the women had gathered and began their dancing separately. Most of them wore fancier larger beads that they placed over their every day neck beads. Many also carried and waved a cloth or a “pom-pom” (because I do not know what else to call them) made of cow tail hair.  They waved their hands and the hair or cloth up and down as they danced and one lady that danced around me hit me in the head with her pom-pom. I was a little shocked and not really sure what that meant, so I just smiled and said “Ejoka” the typical greeting.

The men talking about the next dance/song
·      The dancing continued separately, then eventually melded into a inner circle of men with the women on the outside. The men sat and talked, I think about which song or dance to do next, then got up and danced and the women danced around the outside. Then the men sat again and talked and then got up and danced again. This went on for a long time, until the men left and got the groom and came back with him at the front of the group dancing and singing also. Then the circle reformed and they continued as before.

The large dancing circle
·       I left when the sun was going down, but the next day my language helper told me the wedding had continued until past midnight and there would still be more of the wedding that day until the afternoon, when everyone would finally go home.
At one point I tried to explain a typical American wedding to share some of the contrasts with what I was seeing there. My comments were met with many strange looks and many questions from the Turkana.

Here are just a few more things I am thankful for:
Monitor lizard 

Another learning experience when the monitor lizard was finally dead after an hour hiding on my teammates porch and then a battle with our dogs. I necropsied the critter after it was dead and learned that the Turkana use the fat as “dawa” (medicine). I think I would rather be sick that eat abdominal fat from a lizard. 

I do not have to pump gas here, like a blast from past (my early years of driving) the gas station attendants pump it for you. Even getting your gas pumped is very social and you need to chat a little first.

 I do not have to mow grass at my house. The blessing of having a yard of pure sand! Of course all that sand likes to blow into my house, but with a 12 month growing season, the mowing would get old very quickly, especially if I had to use a panga (machete).

 Sunflower seeds planted along the fence in front of my house and a place to start a garden in the back. Trying to add some “curb appeal” and something beautiful for me to look at as I wash dishes. Here’s hoping the dogs have left my flower beds alone and the guards are watering them.

A desert Rose planted by the side kitchen window and the hope 
that I can get more to grow from transplanting branches.
Ice skating in Nairobi 
Scorpions in my shower, that I was able to remove before the 
cats or I were stung.

Ice skating in Kenya on the same day I rode a camel for the first time. I hope its not the last time for either one of those activities.

Ali and Bonnie
My cat and kitten.  I cannot wait to get back to Lodwar to see them. Ali is 10 weeks old now and very mischievous. I had to post a sign on my refrigerator that says “Please make sure kitten is not stuck in the frig.” Yep the little bugger climbed in there one day when the housekeeper was there and luckily I got home about an hour after she left and heard Ali mewing and let her out, before she got too cold.

My teammates here in Kenya. I am thankful for all they do for me in Nairobi and in Turkana and how they made this a great Christmas.

I am also thankful for my family and friends. Thanks for praying and partnering with me in this ministry.

Most of all I am thankful for God leading me to Turkana and for the sacrifice of His Son Jesus to save me from my sins. I am thankful to spend Christmas celebrating with teammates here and at a church where we did sing American Christmas songs and freely and openly read scriptures. It has been refreshing to my soul to be here and I am thankful for that.

I have Joy because of JESUS.

Thanks to everyone who has sent emails, messages, cards and notes of encouragement. I do not always get to respond to each one personally, but they really do mean so much to me to receive them.

Thanks also for my many partners, for the prayers and financial partnership. You are so important. I can always use more partners, so if you would still like to make a year end donation you can do that at my CMF page

Or contact my parents and they can get you a prayer card that you can mail to CMF.

My address for letters and cards:

Shannon Tucker
PO Box 98
Lodwar  30500
Kenya East Africa

If you wish to send other items please contact me to discuss where they should be sent. I have to pay taxes on everything that is sent and right now I am still happy with what I have been able to get here and have brought over with visitors. Thanks

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